Human rights tribunal to hear case regarding alleged violation at Okanagan school

An Okanagan mother alleges a school did not make accommodations for her daughter’s seizure disorder.

An attempt by an independent school to dismiss a human rights complaint against them was rejected this month. The case will now go forward to be heard by B.C.’s Human Rights Tribunal.

According to a heavily redacted document released by the tribunal, a mother alleges an Okanagan private school refused to remove strobe lights from a school play, despite her daughter suffering from a seizure disorder.

The names of those involved and the location of the school was removed in the report to protect the identities of those involved.

Although the date of the complaint is not specified, documents show that sometime in January of a previous year, the Okanagan school began the work of putting on a play that involved flashing lights.

The daughter had first suffered a seizure in September of 2017, receiving the diagnosis of her condition in the following months.

During stage production rehearsals, the daughter allegedly began to experience problems stemming from forms of lighting the school chief executive officer (CEO) was experimenting with; problems the daughter brought to the CEO’s attention.

According to the documents, the CEO allegedly agreed to fix the issue, then continued to experiment with the lights, prompting the daughter to go to the principal with her issues. According to the documents, the principal also promised to remedy the situation.

The documents further states that later in January, the daughter allegedly asked for a third time that the flashing lights be removed and a teacher suggested she “put her head down or leave the stage when these lights were on” instead of removing the lights.

The school claims they did, in fact, remedy the situation by setting the strobe control to zero, which would cause the lights to flash slowly but not strobe.

The day after the dress rehearsal, the daughter allegedly approached the CEO again regarding her issues. She then followed up by speaking to the principal and teacher after the first show on Jan. 26, after which she was informed by staff that the lights would not be removed.

Also at this time, the daughter was allegedly approached by three of her schoolmates who informed her that they had also approached the teacher ahead of the first show about their concerns for her health, as well as issues they themselves were having with the lights.

The program for the show itself states in print a warning that strobe lights would be in use for the performance.

Following the performances, the mother sent a letter to the school board stating further concerns. According to the school, they took appropriate steps to mitigate any risk to her daughter. They claimed that because her daughter did not suffer a seizure, their actions were enough, and attributed any issues to anxiety.

The school further claimed that another parent who attended the production was diagnosed with light-based sensitivity seizures and had no issues with the performances.

In their call to dismiss the complaint against then, the school argued they had successfully followed procedure with regards to accommodating for the girl’s disorder.

The CEO prepared the submission to dismiss the complaint, according to the documents on the case. In that submission, he alleged that both the mother and daughter were acting in bad faith, claiming, “[Mother BB] was silent the entire time which suggests that either there was no health issue around lights at all, or that she was hoping something would happen to [Daughter MB] where punitive action could be taken or was looking for some other gain.”

In response to the CEO’s submission, the tribunal ruled against dismissing the mother’s complaint. Furthermore, they urged the respondents to be, “… thoughtful in their further defence of the complaint on this basis.”

Now, the complaint will be allowed to proceed to a hearing.

The full report on the rejection of the dismissal can be found on the Human Rights Tribunal Website.

To report a typo, email: [email protected].

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